Category Archives: Current Events

All The Feels

Sleeping Elliot cake, complete with Ardbeg, Starbucks, greek letters, and the Blerch.
Sleeping Elliot cake, complete with Ardbeg, Starbucks, greek letters, and the Blerch.

Last Tuesday I celebrated the fourth anniversary of my PhD defence. It’s hard to believe that four years have passed already. As with most of the anniversaries I celebrate, I marked this particular event with a dram or two of scotch.

As is custom, I also marked the event by taking some time to think about the changes in my life since the big day just over four years ago. To be perfectly honest, when I began reflecting on the events of just the last year, I found myself thinking did all of that really just happen in one year? 

While I won’t get into all of the details, the highlights have included the Farm To Fork crowd-funding campaign and launch, numerous talks – both invited and contributed – on things ranging from community engaged scholarship, to pedagogy, to statistics, to public health, and to social media. I’ve been interviewed several times, and I’ve written for other blogs. I’ve watched as the Farm To Fork project has grown from a simple idea to an amazing tool to fight food insecurity. And I also received a teaching award – which sits proudly in my office.

Amazing detail. An Ardbeg
Amazing detail. An Ardbeg “garnish” for my cake.

But the thing that I find myself dwelling on – the thing that makes me the most happy - is something that really has, in my opinion, little to do with me. The thing that makes me smile the most has been watching the success of the students that I’ve been so fortunate to work with over the past 20 months. These men and women are amazing, and every day that I get to spend with them I find myself loving my job even more, smiling a little bigger, and feeling blessed that I can watch as they become even more incredible people. Their dedication and creativity are inspiring. Their desire to give back, to improve the world, and to help improve the lives of people in our community and abroad, are my armour against the daily onslaught of negativity that the media often presents. I honestly can’t begin to describe the profoundly positive effect they’ve had on my life in such a very short period of time.

This weekend I invited the students - my minions – over for an end of semester celebration. This was to be a thank you from me to them for all of the hard work they’ve put in over the past months; a small gesture to express my gratitude for the opportunity to work with them. Instead, they arrived with one of the best gifts I’ve ever received – one that I won’t soon forget. If you know me, you’ll know that their gift – a sleeping Elliot cake – was perfection, right down to the smallest details. It’s not often that I’m speechless or overwhelmed with emotion, but last night’s thoughtful gift left me in exactly that state.

Starbucks, the Blerch, and greek letters.
Starbucks, the Blerch, and greek letters.

After the minions left and I tidied up, I sat down on the couch, and waited as Elliot went through his routine of pawing at my belly before nuzzling in for his evening snuggles. As I sat there I thought about the night, and the past year, and I once again came to the conclusion that I am one lucky bastard. I smiled to myself, content, happy, and completely overwhelmed with everything.

So a huge thank you to my minions for making last night an amazing night, for constantly putting a smile on my face, for making me laugh, for inspiring me, for challenging me, and for making my job the best job in the world.

To my minions who are graduating this semester – your graduation will be bittersweet. I know that I will be beaming as you walk across the stage to receive your degree, but there will be a small part of me that selfishly won’t want you to be leaving. You are all amazing individuals, and I can’t wait to see what you do next.

Igniting Guelph

Meeting Natasha
Meeting Natasha

Last night I had the pleasure of speaking at Ignite Guelph 3. This would be the second talk I’ve given (the first being at Ignite Guelph 1) as part of the Ignite speaker series, but the first that I’ve done solo1.

The night was a blast. There were so many amazing talks spanning topics from ukuleles, to animation, to metadata, and even hip hop. Some of the talks brought a smile to my face, others presented ideas on topics that I don’t think I would have thought about were not for the speaker, and some of the talks hit me right in the feelings zone2. I’m looking at you Bang Ly.

For those unaware of the Ignite Guelph speaker series format, it’s quite simple: each speaker gets 5 minutes and 20 slides – timed to automatically transition every 15 seconds – to inspire the audience with something they happen to be passionate about. It can be nerve-racking and scary, but it’s a lot of fun.

Given that I do a lot of public speaking – what with having to lecture students on a regular basis, and spreading the word about Farm To Fork to anyone who will listen – I’m very comfortable speaking in front of an audience. However, Ignite talks are different. They demand that you get to your point quickly, and without the benefit of notes (save for whatever you may have put onto the slides). For someone who usually has 20-80 minutes of speaking time per presentation, the shorter duration poses a challenge. But it’s the kind of challenge I like because it forces me to distill my thoughts to the most essential components.

Of course it’s not an easy task. In fact the talk I gave last night wasn’t the original talk I had intended to present. During the week preceding Ignite Guelph I finalized what I thought would be my talk. I spent my spare time memorizing the story of my talk – which I find better than memorizing the exact text – and working on my timing. By Monday night I was fully prepped, but I just wasn’t feeling it. The confidence wasn’t quite where I wanted it to be, and I found this frustrating. Something was missing from my presentation.

And then at 6pm on Monday night it hit me. My presentation was too academic. It lacked a human connection. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t spouting statistics or theories, but it just wasn’t as relatable or personable as I’d wanted it to be. It was almost clinical.

And so I made the decision to rewrite the entire thing.

I’m glad I did because I was able to better connect with my own story – which I hope translated to a better connection with the audience. Having a story that I could embrace fully made telling that story so much simpler. It’s amazing what a little humanity will do for a talk. And given the feedback I received last night at the after-party, I know that the rewrite was the correct thing to do.

For those curious, I spoke about my experiences with fear and how, at the age of 37, I decided to embrace my arachnophobia.

Thanks to the Ignite Guelph team for organizing another amazing event, and thanks to all of the speakers for sharing what inspires you. I can’t wait for Ignite Guelph 4.


1 Last year I spoke at the inaugural Ignite Guelph with my friend (and co-founder of Farm To Fork) Danny Williamson.

2 Ew – feelings.

Relief

I’m sitting here feeling so different from even 24 hours ago.

I just got off the phone with some friends who’ve admitted to sending the envelope I received last Thursday. It was never intended to hurt me – and I know with my entire being that this is the truth, because I know how amazing and supportive and loving these friends are. The pamphlet was sent to me because they assumed it would make me laugh; that I’d see the obvious insanity behind it, and I’d shake my head at its pure stupidity.

What they didn’t know – what they couldn’t have known – was how I would respond.  They couldn’t have known how eerily similar this event was to something that happened only a few years ago. They couldn’t have known that I had received hate mail taped to the door of the very same office which their envelope was addressed, because I’d never talked about it. They couldn’t have known because I’d kept that information to myself; I’d only allowed a few people to have access to that part of me because I had felt that keeping it hidden would somehow protect me – keeping it under lock and key would ensure that no one would feel the need to put me under a microscope to figure out why it had happened in the first place.

Am I angry at them for sending me the pamphlet? No, I’m not. And to everyone who has sent me their support and encouragement, and who have offered to be my personal bodyguards and hit-men, I ask that you aren’t either. Because honestly, I know as I sit here that I’ve been in a similar situation where I’ve done something expecting a particular reaction, only to learn that what was meant to be harmless fun affected someone in a way that I never could have predicted. I’ve been the bad guy and I know how miserable and sorry I felt because I had hurt someone I loved. So no, I can’t be angry with them. It’s not helpful or productive, and it won’t lead any of us to a better place.

Honestly, as I sit here writing this I’m trying to decide who I’m angry with. Am I angry at the people who would intentionally spread hate? Am I angry at myself for letting those people get under my skin? I think the answer is yes to both of these questions. Yes I’m angry that the world seemingly is filled with people who would choose to purposefully harm others, and yes I’m angry at myself for allowing fear to take over my life. But I am not, nor will I allow myself to be, consumed by this anger.

I’m not sure where I’m going to go from here. The past week has taught me a few things about myself, and about how much the events of my past have truly shaped who I am. There are a million thoughts running through my head that I need to process; there are a million things that I could do – I just need to take some time to sort through them.

What I do know, and what I’ve said many times, is that I am a very fortunate man. This week I was reminded of this because of so many people who were willing to go to war to protect me because I thought I was being threatened. While this week has been a low one for me, I find myself humbled by your words, your actions, and your defence of me. I owe each and every one of you a hug, and I love you all for being there for me.

For now I’m heading to bed because I am exhausted in every way. But please do me a favour – please hug your kids, or your parents, or your siblings, or your partner, or your pet; tell the people you love that you love them, even if it scares you, especially if it scares you; forgive. Because these tiny acts are what keeps the darkness and anger and hatred at bay, and these tiny acts heal us. But most importantly, these tiny acts become a force of change if we want them to be.

And I want them to be.

 

 

 

Untitled

This post will likely end up darker than most of what I’ve written previously. For those who came here expecting my usual fare, I apologize. I should also apologize in advance because I’m likely going to drop the f-bomb. Trust me, each and every one is in my opinion warranted. Mom, you may not want to read any further.


I’ve been struggling over the last 24 hours about how I wanted to address something that happened yesterday. In fact, I have been torn about whether or not I should write about it at all. But, given that this blog is often an outlet that helps me sort through the comings and goings of life, I’ve realized that if I don’t write something I’m going to pretty much drive myself insane.

When I arrived on campus yesterday I opted to check my on-campus mail – an entirely unremarkable and typically uneventful habit that usually has me finding the odd memo, but more often empty space. Yesterday I smiled as I saw what I assumed was a much delayed Christmas card – a small envelope decorated with a peace dove; a small berry laden branch in its beak.

The envelope was addressed to me – appropriate title, full name, and including my middle initial. However, it was also addressed to an office that I haven’t had since 2010, so the original office information was scratched out and updated accordingly by the fine folks from Math & Stats who would have handled the mail.  There was no return address, and after reading the contents I would scan the envelope again to identify that the Canadian stamp hadn’t been post-marked by Canada Post. That is, the letter was hand delivered to campus.

I returned to my office, settled in, and happily opened the envelope. Inside I found a tattered and stained pamphlet. There was no note; zero indication of who sent it to me. It was just a pamphlet.

Without getting into the details, I scanned the pamphlet and immediately felt my stomach knot, and my heart rate jump. I was instantly overwhelmed with a feeling of dread, of unease, and of maliciousness. My mind raced to plausible alternatives, and the best I could come up with was that someone I knew found this pamphlet, thought I might find it hilarious, and decided to send it to me. There’s a huge part of me that hopes that is the case.

But, I reasoned, why no return address? Why no note reading Dan, read this bullshit. Can you believe people are like this? If this were a joke, wouldn’t the punchline be obvious. Wouldn’t my reaction be this is hilarious?

Instead I kept returning to the pamphlet and the words within; words like blasphemy and heresy and anti-Christ. I’d like to say this is the first time I’ve received something like this. I’d like to say that it doesn’t bother me. And I’d like to think that I won’t ever receive something like it again. But I can’t honestly say any of those things, because history – my personal history – has taught me that I would be foolish to think such things.

To be honest, it has been a very long time since something like this has disrupted my life. It’s been many years since I felt like my feet have been swept from beneath me; like I’ve had the wind knocked out of me; like the world in which I live is a dark and scary place – full of threats and fear. And I loathe this. I loathe these feelings so much because I would rather choose to live in the light, to believe that we all have something amazing to offer this world.

So to whomever sent me that note – fuck you. Fuck you for spreading darkness and fear. Fuck you for trying to intimidate me. Fuck you for being a coward. Fuck you for thinking that your vitriol would change me. You may have hit me when I wasn’t expecting it but I’m not so easily defeated. I know who I am and I know I will come out of this the better man – because I have been through much worse than your pathetic attempt to bring me down.

To the family and friends whom I’ve chatted with about this, thank you for your support, thank you for your concern, and thank you for just being amazing. While I’m likely going to be out of sorts for a day or two, know that you are the beacon that will keep me on course.

To anyone out there who has to deal with bullying, or harassment, or homophobia, or sexism, or any of the many other horrible things we do to each other, stay strong, focus on the helpers, and know that you are stronger than those who would choose to make you feel small.

I’m Wearing A Stupid Grin

My new shiny
My new shiny

About two months ago – maybe longer – I learned that I had won a teaching award when one of my colleagues congratulated me out of the blue. At the time I had no idea what they were talking about, so I replied with a puzzled look. It’s then that they realized my confusion. They replied with an awkward laugh, mumbled something about I thought you would have known by now, and then carried on their way without providing any further details. I stood there wondering what had happened.

Up until my last few days on campus in December I still had no idea exactly what my colleague was talking about. I had my suspicions, but since nothing had been formalized and no one else had said anything, I figured it best not to start poking around or asking questions. So I sort of forgot about it.

And then I received my yearly evaluation letter1 which also congratulated me on being awarded a teaching award. The details in my evaluation were light. Specifically, the letter outlined the name of the award and that was it.

Well folks, today was the day that I actually received the award – the inaugural School of Computer Science Faculty Teaching Award to be exact - and I’m still smiling like a giant idiot. I don’t embarrass easily, but today I couldn’t help but feel awkward and humbled when the award was announced. I’m sure I was beet red.

The best part about this award is that it is based on nominations cast by students. In this case I was nominated by students in both of the classes I taught – User Interface Design, and Systems Analysis and Design in Application. Being recognized for my contributions by my peers is one thing, but having students respond in this way means so much to me that I’m not quite sure how to put it into words.

You see, there’s a part of me that always worries that I’m not doing a good enough job teaching2. For the most part, this worry is what drives me to do the best job I can, but there are days when I’m also convinced that I’m causing more harm than good. When I started in the School of Computer Science – having just finished my PhD in Statistics – I was very concerned that my position would be short-lived. How could I possibly teach Computer Science when my training was in Statistics? I sort of assumed that I’d start teaching, screw up in a very dramatic way, and be quietly asked to leave before I could inflict any more damage. Somehow that didn’t happen.

Anyway, I’m still having a hard time believing that all of this has just happened. It’s surreal and wonderful and humbling, and so many amazing things that I can’t even quite describe. All I know is that I’m going to keep trying to do my best, and hope that somehow I don’t screw things up.

I’m also going to enjoy this moment, try to fully internalize the accomplishment, and maybe celebrate with a wee scotch. But I won’t be wiping this stupid grin off my face. I really don’t think I could if I tried.


1 Each year I go through a review process by my peers. There are three major components to the review: research, teaching, and service.

2 I’m convinced it’s part of the Impostor Syndrome that I’ve had since I started my PhD.

Bi-Polar Vortex

Walking on the road because the sidewalks are covered in snowdrifts.
Walking on the road because the sidewalks are covered in snowdrifts.

With a -30 something wind chill this eve, my walk home from the office was a bit of a chore. With every gust of wind I shivered and cringed and tried to ignore how painfully cold the exposed bits of my face were. I also tried not to curse Mother Nature whenever she decided to blow snow – which felt like tiny frozen razor blades – at said exposed bits.

It’s usually around this point in the year when I begin to lose my patience with all things winter. My walks to and from the office become a little less the air is so crisp and clean and the snow is beautiful and it’s all so wonderful and magical, and a lot more holy fricking shitcakes, I’m going to punch the next snowman I see in his stupid, stupid neck. 

Fortunately winter hasn’t completely destroyed my spirit, which means any snowman I meet is safe – for now.

The thing I find ultimately weird is how easy it is for me to run in weather like this. It’s almost like some bizarre badge that I wear, and one that I wear proudly. Just yesterday I ran in similar weather for 30 minutes, through snow drifts and crazy-stupid cold wind. A few days before that I returned home with my eyelashes and eyebrows encased in ice. In both cases I ended my runs feeling like I’d just conquered a small country, and loving that I was able to take on winter. Today, however, I spend 25 minutes walking home and I want to assault a snowman and then collapse into a defeated quivering pile.

I think the solution to my bi-polar1 response to winter is that I leave all of my work at the office. My non-homework laden self would then be able to run to the office in the morning, and home in the evening – filling me with conquering winter pride instead of murderous snowman rage.

Or, another solution might be a wee vacation somewhere warm and tropical and filled with servants who bring me coconut based drinks.

Tough call.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some travel websites to peruse.


1 Polar! Ha!

The Re-Schtubbed-Ubbening

Ma sinuses are schtubbed ubb, again.
Ma sinuses are schtubbed ubb, again.

I’ve been randomly looking back at some old posts – seeing if there were any shenanigans of significance that I might have found myself a part of a year ago1. Part of the reason for my walk down memory lane is known as procrastination; I know I have to run 7km today on my Quest To 1000 Kilometres, but I’m feeling a little lazy at the moment.

Beyond a case of the lazies, my sinuses haven’t forgiven me since yesterday’s run and gym adventure. I’ve been sneezing up a storm. I had originally blamed it on the dust that’s been generated at the gym on account of some remodelling that’s going on, but then I started my walk down memory lane. Now I’m not so sure.

You see, one year ago yesterday – yesterday being when the sinus stuff started – I wrote Schtubbed Ubb. My sinuses were b0rked then too. Last year I blamed travel, however, I’m not so sure that I’m buying that excuse anymore. Perhaps my sinuses contain a deeper, darker secret. Perhaps they’re plotting against me. Perhaps they don’t want me to run.

Or perhaps I’m just finding any reason to avoid lacing up and doing the work I know I have to do if I ever want to crush my goal.

We may never know for sure.


1 Sometimes I look back to see if there is an excuse to celebrate some milestone’s anniversary. Because anniversaries mean scotch. That’s a rule.

90-Day Fitness & Accountability Challenge

It's on. 90-Day Fitness & Accountability Challenge. January 6-April 5.
It’s on. 90-Day Fitness & Accountability Challenge. January 6-April 5.

Because I love challenges, and because my list of things to do is apparently not long enough, I decided to begin a 90 day fitness challenge on January 6th. I blame this entirely on my friend Rick, because he’s the one who first introduced the idea to me (click here to view his post describing the challenge in detail).

The concept is simple: set a fitness challenge that works for you, and stick to it for 90 days. The challenge can be anything, so long as it is exactly that – a challenge. For example, if you are someone who already has a history of working out 3 times per week, a challenge might be to up that to 4 times per week. If on the other hand you don’t work out at all, setting a goal of two 30 minute sessions of activity per week might be challenge enough. Point is – you have to pick something that makes sense for you, and pushes you beyond your current routine.

For those of you who don’t know, Rick goes by the handle of @InspirationRick on the Twitter. Having seen the number of people he’s just inspired to take part in this 90 day challenge, I can tell you he’s earning that moniker. Well done sir. My hat is off to you1.

So what have I decided to do for my challenge? I have committed to 6 days of activity per week3. If I follow my training program for the upcoming Toronto GoodLife Marathon and the 50k Niagara Ultra Marathon, 6 days shouldn’t be a problem – although it’ll definitely be a challenge.

For the sake of my 90 day challenge, all of the training runs, yoga/stretching sessions, and visits to the gym will qualify as acceptable forms of activity. My walks to and from the office will not qualify as they are part of my regular routine.

From a nutritional/healthy eating point of view, I’m going to also strive to drink more water (1 big glass before bed and as soon as I wake up), and eat out less. To accomplish the latter goal, I’m going to focus on short-term objectives first; making lunches instead of buying them on campus every day during the month of January. If that works well, then I’ll see what other changes I can make.

Here’s to a kick ass 90 days.


1 Mainly because you’ve done an awesome job, and deserve the nod. But also because I want to hand you a hat so that you can cover up your face. Cuz it’s ugly2. ZING!

2 For those who are new to this blog, Rick is not actually ugly. I guess.

3 Which I will be tracking weekly with the rest of my Quest to 1000 km statistics.

Over-overwhelmed

Farm To Fork launched October 3, 2013
Farm To Fork launched October 3, 2013

Early on in 2012, my friend Danny and I were sitting around drinking scotch or beer or something of that nature, discussing doing something. I don’t mean doing something in the sense that we were bored and wanted to entertain ourselves with an activity. I mean in the sense of doing something to demonstrate that regular everyday folks could make a meaningful difference in their own community if they simply got off their butts and did something.

Little did we know where that conversation would take us. Little did we know that our conversation-soon-to-be-project would garner the attention of people around the globe. Little did I know how much of an impact this thing would have on my life.

Fast forward to last Thursday. There we were at Innovation Guelph, surrounded by over 100 people – students, staff, and faculty of the University of Guelph, community partners, and local citizens – all interested in learning about, signing up, supporting, and celebrating the launch of the Farm To Fork project. To say that the experience was overwhelming would be an understatement. Over-overwhelming might begin to scratch the surface of what we felt.

I mentioned earlier that this thing - this Farm To Fork thing - has had a huge impact on my life. That is by no means an understatement. For those of you not aware, my training is in Mathematics & Statistics. If anyone were to tell me that one of the things that I would do in my life of which I would be the proudest would dwell in a world outside of Mathematics & Statistics, I might have thought you insane. And yet, here we are – several days post launch – and I am blown away by how things have changed in my life over the last year and a bit. This class project has become more than anything I could have ever imagined.

  • Farm To Fork is a computer science based solution to the very real problem of food insecurity in our community. Just over a year ago I barely knew anything about food insecurity. Now I find myself spending most of my day researching this very real problem, and talking about it with anyone willing to listen.
  • Farm To Fork has been supported by the community in ways I never imagined, including a very successful fund raising campaign earlier this year. Just over a year ago, I would have never even considered crowd-funding for science. Now I’m contacted on a regular basis because I’m apparently one of the first Canadian academics who have used it to support their research.
  • Farm To Fork is the result of community engaged scholarship – students, faculty, and community experts working together to make a difference. Just over a year ago I’d never even heard of community engaged scholarship. Now, I find myself giving talks and extolling the benefits of engaging students in real outside the textbook problems. It is a better way to educate.

My life is vastly different than that I had imagined. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact it’s completely wonderful. It’s amazing and unexpected. It’s full of highs and lows, but mostly highs. It’s beyond the words that I am capable of writing. It is, simply put, more than I could have ever asked for. I am the luckiest bastard I know.

Farm-To-Fork.ca
Farm-To-Fork.ca

Of course it didn’t just happen. I have to acknowledge the incredible contributions and hard work of so many amazing people. Throughout all of this, Danny and I have been very fortunate to work with the best of the best – people who knew everything about all of the things we didn’t; people who had the power to act, and did; people who inspire me every time I think of what they’ve accomplished. I am incredibly spoiled to be surrounded by so many big brains and bigger hearts. The success of Farm To Fork is due to this collective of awesomeness; this group of dedicated and highly motivated people who know that things change only when we come together and think beyond the rules. I am so fortunate to find myself in the company of these people, and I am forever grateful. There is no way I can thank them enough.

While there are many people to thank, I want to thank the students the most. They were the thinkers, the planners, the doers in this story. They worked tirelessly. They worked beyond the grades. They worked because they knew what they were doing was right. I am incredibly proud of them. So proud that I have no idea how to express the impact they have had on my life. They have reminded me that people can be amazing. They have taught me so much. They have reassured me that, despite what one might read in the news, our future will be bright. Bright because there are people out there who care; because there are people out there who are willing to go above and beyond; because the future will be led by them.

Farm To Fork started out as an idea over scotch, but it has become so much more than that. I couldn’t be prouder.


 

For those who missed it, this is the slide show that was presented during the launch party.

A Life Well Lived

Photo from Flickr

Today I listened to friends, students, staff, and faculty describe a person I met about 19 years ago. She was an incredible, remarkable woman; full of life, compassion, and empathy. She was genuine. Truly genuine. And she was seemingly filled to the brim with all of the qualities that make a person an amazing mentor, educator, role model, and inspiration.

I knew Linda Allen as the embodiment of all that makes a teacher great. I will always be awed by her ability to connect with students. To not just help them, but to get to know them. To know their families, their friends.

Whenever I saw her on campus, she would often ask in her very maternal way about my brother – who, for a time, studied at the University of Guelph. She met him only a few times while we ran around getting papers signed and documents filled out so that he could enrol, and yet she remembered him. She remembered what he was doing then, and wanted to know where he was now, what he was doing, how he was doing.

And this is what was amazing about her. She wasn’t bestowing some special treatment on me and my brother. She did this with everyone. She knew or wanted to know about everyone. And she remembered. Even the tiniest of details.

Sadly, the world lost someone special on Sunday. Suddenly, unexpectedly, and far too soon.

Fortunately her memory will not be forgotten. She has touched so many lives, so many countless lives, that I think it impossible for that to happen. Her spirit, her passion, her smile, will live on in the minds and hearts of the people who knew her.

I was fortunate to know Linda as an undergraduate student. I knew Linda through my Masters degree, and then throughout my PhD. And I knew Linda as I happily accepted my current position in the School of Computer Science. She smiled the day that my paperwork was finally signed. And it was a proud and loving smile. Through it all she remained a constant and positive always smiling force on campus.

Thank you Linda for being one of the many examples of a life well lived.

I’m going to miss you.

I Miss The Mountains

We came. We saw. We conquered.
Me, Rick, and Aidan at the top of Sparrowhawk

On Tuesday afternoon I made my way back home to Guelph, having spent the prior week visiting Rick in Calgary. The adventure was amazing – but that really wasn’t a difficult bar to pass given that the trip involved mountains, hiking, meeting up with friends, good food, a drink known as Better Than Folgers, more mountains, Banff, hanging with both Rick and my brother, and basically celebrating the anniversary of the grandest of adventures known as the Big Mountain Challenge.

Since I returned I’ve been running around a little crazy – doing last-minute and final prep for the course that I’m teaching this semester, organizing my undergrad and grad students1, organizing several projects, organizing the Farm To Fork launch party, trying to come up with a prioritized list of things to do, and basically doing whatever I can to make sure the next several weeks/months aren’t too stressful2.

Easier said than done, obviously.

Despite all of this (and the occasional build up of anxiety3) I’m feeling good. I think my trip has a lot to do with that. There’s something special about mountain air that does my body good – providing me with better focus, more energy, and the drive to crush whatever obstacle might be in my way. And I’m going to need that this semester, because my list of projects and papers and grants and talks and posters and events could be overwhelming. I just have to remember to take the time – especially when the anxiety and stress start building – to stop and reflect on my mountain-top adventures. Because nothing destroys my stress quite like the mountains.

And I think that’s why I miss them so much.


I’ve uploaded a bunch of pictures and a video below – some of these are new, some you’ve likely seen before, and some are courtesy of Rick. Enjoy.

Sparrowhawk
Sparrowhawk
Nerds
Nerds
Adventurers (at Mount Indefatigable)
Adventurers (at Mount Indefatigable)
Climbing Sparrowhawk
Climbing Sparrowhawk
Not the summit of Sparrowhawk, but still pretty impressive.
Not the summit of Sparrowhawk, but still pretty impressive.
Pika!
Pika!
Sunset following our Sparrowhawk climb
Sunset following our Sparrowhawk climb
Climbing Mount Indefatigable
Climbing Mount Indefatigable
At the top of Indefatigable. Epic scramble. Epic ridge walk.
At the top of Indefatigable. Epic scramble. Epic ridge walk.
More of Indefatigable
More of Indefatigable

1 Which really means organizing myself.

2 Such as snuggling with Elliot.

3 Apologies to Julie who had to hear a mild rant today.

 

Falling To My Death? Not Today Indefatigable. Not Today.

The Mount Indefatigable trail - hitting both north and south peaks.
The Mount Indefatigable trail – hitting both north and south peaks. Image via: http://www.soistheman.com

Yesterday Rick, Aidan, and I jumped into the car and headed to Kananaskis country to face the challenge of climbing Mount Indefatigable (stopping first at Starbucks and Safeway for necessities like go-go juice, snacks, and lunch).

Approximately 1.5 hours from Calgary, Indefatigable actually represents two peaks and a ridge connecting the two. The southern peak is approximately 2556m (8386ft) above sea level, while the northern peak is slightly higher. According to this website, the peak reaches 2678m (8786ft) above sea level. Not the highest peak that Rick and I have ever done, but still a solid adventure.

Rick, getting close to the southern peak of Mount Indefatigable
Rick, getting close to the southern peak of Mount Indefatigable

The first half hour included a rather steep incline, and amazing views of the lakes surrounding the region. The weather was perfect – not too hot, not too cold – and the company was fantastic. The hike included a lot of laughter and chatting, and every few steps hooting and hollering. Why? Well, it turns out that we were hiking a decommissioned trail; decommissioned because it is home to several generations of grizzlies. The hoots and hollers were to warn them of our presence, and hopefully scare them off. The last thing we needed was to be eviscerated by a hungry grizzly.

Once we passed the tree line, we were greeted by the ridge that defined the Indefatigable trail. According to the experts, the trail from north to south would be tough, but we were determined to conquer it. There were a few sketchy areas that gave all of us pause – partially to figure out our footing and grip, partially to breathe, gather our thoughts, and quell the voices in our head that might have been screaming to turn around because holy shit why would we put ourselves into such a crazy situation? To put the climb into perspective, there were sections where, while not quite vertical, we were forced to hug the mountain for fear that the slightest slip would send us falling several hundred metres to the valley below. In fact, the major hazard described for this climb: falling to your death. 

Rick pretending to be Icarus on the sketchy part of the climb.
Rick pretending to be Icarus on the sketchy part of the climb.

Talk about a rush.

Fortunately none of us fell to our death. And despite a few breath caught in our throat moments, we reached the north peak with only a few scratches and scrapes. Our reward – absolutely spectacular scenery. Honestly, the views were probably some of the best that I’ve ever seen from a mountain top.

After resting for a bit, we began our venture along the ridge from the north peak to the south peak. Walking at times on a path about a foot and a half wide, with very steep drops on either side was amazing. Strangely, we all felt quite comfortable traversing the ridge.

A nerdtacular shot at the top of the north peak.
A nerdtacular shot at the top of the north peak.

We reached the southern peak around 5:00pm. Tired, but still energized, we took some more photos, soaked in the scenery, and then began our descent. The trail here was steep at points, but well-defined and quite easy to hike. Along the way we ran in to some mountain goats who seemed to be enjoying the views of the valley from high above.

The entire trail took us about 8 hours, including several stops for snacks, lunch, and about 10 thousand photos.

Honestly, yesterday could have only been better if our friend Paul was able to join us.

Helloooooo Mountains

At the edge of Ha Ling
At the edge of Ha Ling.

Just over a year ago Rick and I began the Big Mountain Challenge to raise money for the Kidney Foundation of Canada. The adventure required that we hike several mountains, canoe Lake Louise, raise oodles of money, and spend a large portion of our time being spoiled rotten by the awesome folks at Chateau Lake Louise, the Banff Springs Hotel, and Banff Lake Louise Tourism. It’s a rough life, but someone has to do it.

To say that the adventure was one of the greatest experiences of my life would be an understatement.

On Wednesday night I flew into Calgary to meet up with Rick once again – this time with my brother Aidan in tow – to celebrate the anniversary of the Big Mountain Challenge.

Our adventure started yesterday. While Rick was at work, Aidan and I ventured to MEC (for some necessary equipment), and then to the Calgary Farmers’ Market (for some necessary donuts and other foodstuffs). After sufficiently stuffing our gullets, we picked up Rick and made our way towards the mountains. Specifically, we made our way towards Ha Ling Peak.

The hike was short, full of steep inclines, mixed with sunshine, cool breezes, and later on, a bit of rain. We started around 5:30pm and finished four hours later. As per usual, we were greeted with amazing views during the entire hike, and breathtaking views once we reached the top (a few shots of which are provided below for your viewing entertainment).

As with most of my hikes I learned a thing or two on the mountain. First, dehydration, exhaustion, heat, funky airline food, and Aidan do not mix. Second, I challenge anyone to differentiate between the remnants of a bear attack and red Gatorade mixed with prosciutto and white bread. Third, I prefer climbing up a mountain in the dark vs. climbing down a mountain in the dark. Fourth, rocks and roots are extra slippery on the way down. Fifth, and most importantly, I love the mountains.

Today is our rest day. Tomorrow we tackle Mount Indefatigable. Later, Mount Sparrowhalk.

Yup. The Big Mountain Challenge Anniversary is shaping up to be a pretty epic adventure, and I couldn’t be happier.


1 Ha

At the top of Ha Ling
At the top of Ha Ling
Hiking up Ha Ling
Hiking up Ha Ling
NERDS! I'm being followed by nerds.
NERDS! I’m being followed by nerds.
The beast known as Ha Ling
The beast known as Ha Ling.

Sometimes We Need A Reminder

Jack Layton, 1950-2011

I just finished reading a news article that has left me heartbroken, angry, numb, speechless, and I don’t know what else.

The article in question described a woman who received an anonymous letter from someone indicating that she should euthanize her autistic son. I’m not going to link to the article, because I don’t want this post to be about something so heinous.

I also don’t want to seethe or vent or question how someone could be so twisted and hateful, because I don’t think it’s what I need right now. I don’t understand hate like this, yet I know that it’s in the news daily; heartbreaking images from around the world showing us how cruel and horrible people can be to each other. It seems to pervade every corner of life – injustices across the ocean, south of the border, in our own country, in our province, in our town. It’s everywhere and it can be overwhelming. So effing I-can’t-breathe-I’m-so-angry overwhelming.

It’s times like this that I have to remind myself that anger and fear and despair and hate are but a small fraction of the good that happens every day. The problem, I think, is that we seem inundated with negative; anger and fear and despair sell. They are self-perpetuating; fear brings more fear, and anger reaps more anger.

We need to fight back. Not because we should gloss over horrible things, or pretend they don’t happen, but because we need to remind ourselves that love and hope and optimism are all around us. Because these too can be self-perpetuating if we allow them to be.

So despite the anger I feel at the moment, I’m going to try to focus on the words that Jack Layton left in a letter to all Canadians after his death:

“My Friends, love is better than anger, hope is better than fear, optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful, and optimistic, and we’ll change the world.”

Now go and hug someone you love. Tell a friend you miss them. Do something for someone you don’t know. Smile. Change the world.

So This Is 38

Apparently I’ve survived another year on this, our wee blue-green spaceship

Thirty-eight.

Three Eight.

Three.

Eight.

I’m trying to decide if thirty-eight has a nice ring to it or not. There’s nothing particularly wrong with thirty-eight. It’s a perfectly cromulent number, composed of two rather curvy digits (and who doesn’t like curvy digits?). But it’s also not entirely notable. It doesn’t represent any of the standard milestones – sweet 16, legal drinking age in Canada, legal drinking age in the States, 25, or dirty 30 – and it’s just shy of the four decade flag. It’s not prime. It’s not a perfect square. It’s just plain ole thirty-eight.

And yet, as I sit here thinking about how plain thirty-eight appears to be, I just can’t seem to accept it. I can’t seem to shake the feeling that 38 could be awesome.

I mean, the years that came before 38 have been pretty great. I’ve been fortunate enough to land myself a job that I love, and that permits me the opportunity to explore (both theoretically and in application) the world around us. I’m surrounded by a rather weird yet incredibly wonderful assortment of family and friends who, despite the crazy ideas that pop into my head, never cease to offer their support and love (and sometimes pie, or date squares1, or chocolate). And I’ve been able to travel – not nearly as much as I’d like, because let’s be honest, I’d be travelling and exploring and adventuring every day if I were independently wealthy.

My life is pretty awesome. I don’t write that to brag. I write it because it’s good to take stock and remind myself just how lucky I am; to remember that even on those days where I’m not feeling like things are going my way, that the overall trend has been positive and getting better every day.

And this is why I get the sense that 38 is going to be anything but plain.

So here’s to another year of adventure, another year filled with shenanigans, and family, and friends; a year full of highs and lows – but mostly highs; a year full of laughter, and more laughter, and laughing so hard I cry just a little; here’s to 38.


1 I’m not saying that date squares would be a pretty stellar birthday gift, but, actually, wait, that’s exactly what I’m saying.